No Country for Old Men

…is just about as good as everyone says. I’ll spoil nothing, and say little here–but I’m curious about others’ responses. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and it’s a mean little machine for producing tension.

I had found myself unable to get past page 10 of the novel, because it seemed to ooze portent in ways that became pretentious; yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it: the arbitrary ephemeral nature of human morality, the bleak brutal clockwork of vicious, even evil fate. The film’s, I think, far better–such high-hatted import doesn’t matter much when you’re watching Llewellyn swim too slowly away from the furious advance of a pit bull, visible only from the head up, moving inexorably closer and closer.

But the precision of the film’s plot, look, sound, suspense do work just too well enough to make one step back and pay attention, particularly in the fine closing monologue by Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff, to such weighty subtext. What I appreciated was that the film seemed less to reflect about existential philosophy than the pleasures of revenge, genre, cinema — for me, Bardem’s evil Chigurh is less a force of nature than a vision of our own pleasures.

And I’ve puttered around trying to find a way to say what I mean without discussing the end, and couldn’t. So… I’ll wait a bit ’til some have seen the film.

48 thoughts on “No Country for Old Men…”

  1. I liked the novel. I liked the film even better. I had worked up my own line about the dog, but Mike stole my thunder four days before it clapped. Hmmm . . . Chigurh a vision of our own pleasures . . . that sounds like Mike (do you find pleasure in Iraq as well cause this character strikes me, and other characters in the film, as the supreme embodiment of those forces which have shaped the waning days of a cataclysmic epoch). Still, 122 minutes of pure suspense, wry offbeat humor, and sad philosophical meditation; what more can you ask?

    Two details that bugged me: do you think HBO would be available in a west Texas motel in 1980 . . . would punks with green hair walk the streets of Odessa?

  2. An almost perfect movie. It is pitch perfect, and I found myself luxuriating in every moment of the dialogue and in the framing of every shot. I haven’t enjoyed darkly comic dialogue as much since the last Tarantino. Every character, major and minor, gives a memorable performance (OK, maybe not Woody Harrelson). The little touches work, and the blood is a force of nature, seeping, oozing, flowing and gurgling as our characters step in it, over it, around it and wipe if off their feet. And the right people die, including the final death. There is sentimentality in Tommy Lee Jones’s view of the world, but none in the unfolding of the plot. Bloody wonderful.

  3. Chris, I’m curious what you mean by “the right people”? I think I know what you want to communicate (the film doesn’t give in to the audience’s desires; unless, of course, Mike is right and it gives and gives and gives) but your phrasing struck me. [spoilers] And it is hard for me to think of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell as sentimental. He’s world weary and willing to retreat to a place of safety in the face of uncertainty and the unknown yet to come, but I found him mostly spare, hard-edged, cynical and sardonic. An anecdote: I saw the film this past Thursday afternoon (yeah, kinda sad, Nicola and I have no social life) and there’s a moment in the film when Ed Tom is reading about a couple in California who entrap the elderly, spending their government checks while torturing them. The couple are caught when a naked, old man–wearing a dog collar–manages to escape. This wasn’t some throwaway scene nor was it there to lend color, I think; yet this one woman in the audience was laughing her head off. Now the film is funny in odd and peculiar ways, beautifully so, but no one else in the theatre made a sound. The Coen Brothers had built in some laugh lines to arrive a few moments later and indeed the audience responded. But I keep returning to that one woman. It was an awkward moment, because I didn’t find the story funny. Again, some carefully placed dialogue commenting on Ed Tom’s reading of the story was funny but the story itself, I argue, is central to the film’s major themes and central to Ed Tom’s character and integral to the way I received/made meaning out of Chigurh’s actions (how I fit him into my reception of the film). So, I ramble. But that moment as much as anything else continues to bounce around my head.

    By the way, most of America didn’t receive access to cable television until the mid-eighties. Why that detail bugs me, I don’t know (HBO is prominently displayed on the motel sign where Lewellen hides his case). It wasn’t until December 1981 that HBO went 24/7; and In January 1986, HBO became the first satellite network to encrypt its signal from unauthorized viewing by way of the Videocipher II System allowing it to be beamed into businesses and motels throughout the country. Hell, it was mostly known as the “Home Box” up to 1982. Maybe west Texas was way ahead of the cultural curve in 1980 but the detail bugs me because the Coen Brothers tend to be meticulous filmmakers.

  4. SPOLIERS ahoy.

    Pleasure: “right people” means that Llewelyn doesn’t suddenly become more competent, or tough it out underdog-style to take down the absurdly inexorable Chigurh. And then–given Chigurh’s precise mathematics of mayhem–Llewelyn’s wife (Kelly Macdonald) needs to “pay,” as well. I find it intriguing not just that the film resists pulling the rug out from under Chigurh, bringing him down from the superhuman so that the lesser anti-hero sort-of-everyman can win, nor even its resistance to Ed Tom finding him in that hotel room (rather than that ghost) or happening upon Chigurh later–for properly hero-ly comeuppance. No, the element that buzzes me is the deeper resistance even to showing us the “big” kills of Llewelyn and later wife; in the former, we see aftermath, and the latter only arrives via inference. The film *seems* to be about thwarting viewerly pleasure.

    But again I think the coin toss–when Chigurh’s being chided by the widow Moss, who accuses him of hiding behind the random flip–is crucial. Chigurh says, “But I came with the coin.” And it’d be easy to read that as explicit metonymy, the coin and killer parallel markers of brutal random fate. (And the car crash moments later–which, I swear, I started waiting for the minute AC climbed behind the wheel–dots the exclamation.) But the fate thing seems so easy…

    My point about reading this via pleasure: what we come to see *seems* to be about the contained chaotic violence of the plot dynamics restored to a neat, orderly status by plot’s end. Chigurh is released on the world, then would be carefully boxed back up. The film(makers) refute/s that. Plot is a coin toss; the pleasures of such violence could be tied to its anarchic release or its ultimate restraint, but hey, flip a coin–we like it both ways. What brought the coin and the killer into our lives was our desire to see such violence enacted.

    Funny: I didn’t laugh much either. Still, that woman may be on to something. Maybe there’s something–more explicit in some of the Coens’ other films?–about the absurdity of the representation of violence, from the biker-thug-from-hell chasing Nic Cage in Arizona to the toupee stolen from a corpse in Miller’s Crossing to wood-chippers to chopped-off toes to a gun mistaken for an inhaler, a line running through all of their films which makes the shaggy-dog silliness of on-screen hurting (a naked old man is funny enough, let alone in a dog collar) as much pratfall as fall. Didn’t Ed Tom’s deputy (Garret Dillahunt) snort at story’s end, and didn’t Ed Tom admit that he laughed, sometimes, too?

    HBO: Maybe it’s imprecision. But I don’t think the Coens care terribly much about verisimilitude; their meticulousness is not about mimesis. So, like the line opening Fargo that lied about it being a “true story,” maybe they’re fucking with you, Jeff?

  5. Nah, I just wanted HBO in 1980 and am fuckin’ mad west Texas already had it. SPOILERS: In the novel, Llewelyn’s wife does call the coin toss and loses, and I’m pretty certain there is no car accident (if I remember correctly, the book’s final two chapters deal with Chigurh and the wife, and then Ed Tom and his wife). I wish I owned the damn thing because I think the Coen Brothers are really fucking with us by adding the crash. Finally, we think, the monster is dead (I was thinking, having read the book, no way, are they going to kill this guy!?!) but the film takes that pleasure away from you as well, wrapped up in a shirt taken from an angelic teenage boy (“Mister, you cahn hahve my shirt”) as if to say notions of innocence and goodness feeds evil. For what it’s worth, most every choice (including Llewelyn’s off-screen, anti-climatic death) is McCarthy’s not the Brothers. The wife falling for the coin toss was even more pathetic than her defiant stance in the movie.

  6. Mike explains better than I could have done what I meant by the right people. There are so many ways in which the movie could have chickened out and given us a vaguely moralistic ending, or one that conformed to our expectations of “justice” and it resists every one.

    And the twin themes of chance and age (or “the age”) run throughout the movie, intertwining different episodes. That is what I meant by Ed Tom’s sentimentality: he was wrestling with the notion that the current age is more amoral, more violent (from the opening voice over to the scene with the newspaper story), and he desperately wants to believe that things were once better. But the old guy he visits near the end suggests that it has always been bloody.

    Damn, I loved this movie. I may have to see it again soon but I promised to take my youngest to ‘Bee Movie’…

  7. I loved this movie too. From frame one to the last. Tommy Lee Jones is amazing, as is Bardem.

    I did a quick read through of everyone’s comments, so maybe I missed something about Ed Tom and the newspaper story. Deputy Wendell laughs, and it is a very nervous laughter. But only because he is a deputy, in the shadow of one of the last living legends of west Texas law enforcement. And Ed says something like “Hell, I’d laugh, too…what else can you do?” This is not to say that the woman in the theater laughs for the same reason as Ed does, but I would be hesitant to rush to some cynical reading of spectator laughter during this scene. I think this film, like other Cohen brothers films, especially Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, and Blood Simple, have always tracked along the the 180 degree plane that separates the brutal from the ridiculous. Seldom do they, as writers/directors, place us comfortably in a position that allows us to determine which side we’re one at any given time.

    I like Chris’s comment about the bubbling, gurgling, flowing pools of blood. This resonates especially well with me since there was a preview of Anderson’s There Will be Blood before the film. Daniel Day Lewis has a line something like “we’re sitting on an ocean of oil,” and it seems fitting that here we are, in the Cohen brothers film, in west Texas, where blood oozes up through the ground like oil. Texas tea.

    I have so much more to say, but I’ve got to read through these comments some more and let this film sink in a bit.

    Quick question: Ed Tom knows that Chigurh is in that hotel room, right? Doesn’t he see the distorted reflection on the blown keyhole? After all, he had already put two and two together and understood Chigurh would return to the scene of the crime (the reason why they couldn’t find the money is because it was, once again, in the air vent and Chigurh would have to go back for it). So why, then, does Ed Tom bust into the room but not look behind the door, where he must know Chigurh is hiding? I know Chigurh cannot get a good shot, since he seemed to be armed only with his air compressor. I have to admit, I was a bit distracted during the screening, so maybe I missed something during the final fifteen-twenty minutes. I saw it in downtown Chicago with my sister, and the theater was packed. Behind us sat two old women, one of whom had a head cold and would not stop talking. To the left of us was–I don’t know, he must have been a doctor because his beeper kept going off.

  8. I don’t think Chigurh was waiting in the motel room, or at least that motel room. There is nobody behind the door when Tom eventually opens it. The image we have is either in Tom’s imagination, or, conceivably, Chigurh is waiting in the room next door (two rooms were taped off in police yellow). I read that scene as reflecting Tom’s fear: he imagines Chigurh, who he has figured out uses an air gun and compressor, waiting, but feels compelled to check out the room, despite his fear.

  9. Following up on John’s q and Chris’ response: yeah, Chigurh is not in that room. How to read the scene…. I’m not sure. Earlier, Ed Tom had called Chigurh a ghost, and his absence from the motel room almost plays like a disappearance–a literal reading of AC’s in-/super-human abilities.

    And clearly it’s as much about our fears and expectations as Ed Tom’s — we fear AND want his presence there…

  10. I thought he was in the room as well; so did Nicola. Nothing in the text seems to suggest it was a product of Ed Tom’s imagination (and nothing in the text suggests such imaginings/appartitions are possible in this universe). I assumed when Ed Tom turned to the air vent, Chigurh stealthily scooted away. Or he could have been in the other room. What ever the answer may be; it does strike me as an instance of poor editing coupled with a confusing relationship between spatial dynamics and narrative logic. Sure, maybe it does play on our fears but that’s a little too Wes Craven for my tastes. The text creates a universe (however linear or disorienting) and we buy into. Any disruptions would strike me as problematic.

  11. You’re problematic!

    I’m reading “the text” more broadly–the Coen world, which (again) strikes me as concerned less with mimesis than various aesthetic objectives. Hm. I guess I wasn’t worried here; I took its ambiguity as in keeping with the character and the film’s use of that character.

  12. I’m not exactly sure how you are using the word mimesis, but if you are using it in an Aristotelian sense (an imitation of an action OR the re-presentation of human action), then I am confused. How can you possibly say the Coen Brothers are not interested in mimesis (while they have a rather dadaist/absurdist sense of humor, it always seems to be rooted in human frailty, vulnerability, capriciousness, and desire)? Would you argue that Beckett or Ionesco or Shepard are not interested in mimesis? Even the Coen Brothers’ strangest films (the ones that appear to have been hatched under glass) are concerned with human action. Still, as far as I am concerned, filmmakers from Maya Deren to Ingmar Bergman to Jane Campion to the Coen Brothers are craftspeople/artists who create a universe for us in every film, and those universes have rules. There is an internal logic no matter how disorienting or alienating (you love your genre flicks and their rules and how filmmakers play with the rules/conventions). If Chigurh is not in that hotel room (and I’m still guessing that he is there; he has no grudge with Ed Tom; he doesn’t even know Ed Tom exists) but simply a figment of Ed Tom’s and the audience’s fertile imagination; then, for a brief few seconds, the film goes off-map. It’s a tiny flaw and not one worth getting into a tizzy about. And when you speak about the ambiguity of character, are you referring to Ed Tom (I think not). Throughout the film Chigurh creeps ups on a lot of folks without them (or us) knowing he is just around the corner. Within the film’s logic; he has the ability to move in and out of space like a ghost (that moment where he is suddenly walking up the stairs behind Harrelson’s character or the way he lurks in the dark recesses of the wife’s bedrooom (we know he’s there because of the lovely shot of the open window with the breeze-tossed curtains). He’s not a ghost. He’s just stealthy.

  13. Sheesh, you’re yanking out Aristotle? Okay, yes–why not?–I’m concerned with mimesis in the senses you named. But the emphasis seems to be on imitation, and constraint: if a human couldn’t “really” do it, then it doesn’t count. In other words, “mimesis” is often assumed to be a natural way of reading art as nothing but (mere) representation, which ought follow the logic of spatial, temporal, physical restraints. Bah humbug. And, if the above is what you mean by mimetic, then no I don’t think Beckett, Ionesco, or Shepard give two hoots for the notion.

    If “human action” is intended as openly as it might be, then, sure, I’m with you 137%. No limits–the world is not a restriction on the logic of the text; what we can imagine is by definition tied to notions of the human. Such a definition seems rather pointless–everything fits–but okay.

    The “universe”–I’m exactly concerned with that. But I don’t think the logic is internal to one film, nor do I think the logic is governed by principles of exclusion (if this, then that is NOT possible) but potentially by principles of inclusion. I’m trying to suggest that the vision of Chigurh may very well be considered merely physical, but so many of the characters and so much of the filmmaking invites us to consider him as a force BEYOND nature that we ought to imagine the ambiguities of that scene (and probably others, like the shuffling to security after the improbable bandaging of a bone-shattered arm) are not constricted by the limits of the plausible. This film’s world is interested in dreams, in myth, in archetype, in the unconscious. Why on earth would we restrict our viewing to the (merely) physical?

    And I’m NOT suggesting he’s a ghost. I’m suggesting, though, that the scene resists–the whole film may refute–our attempts at the comforts of “plausibility” and “motivation” and “truth,” as it instead relies upon the engines of coincidence, resists closure and certainty, and so on.

    The Coens’ “text” must also include all the Coens’ films — and a filmmaking duo willing to have Nic Cage dream the arrival of a “demon from hell” who thereafter appears, is more interested in the liberating realm of the cinematic than they are in other stuff.

    I’m with Hitchcock–who gives a damn what ‘really’ happened or could have? The interesting question is how does it make us feel, react, shiver?

  14. If Oedipus cannot “really” do it then it doesn’t matter? If Clytemnestra cannot “really” do it then it doesn’t matter? If Medea doesn’t “really” do it, then it doesn’t really matter. Yes, my reading of Aristotle, who coins the term in response to Plato’s elitist fears as to the worth of any and all artistic responses to the world, is far more open than your seemingly reductive, somewhat pejorative use of the term (maybe your ideas are shaped by those damned neoclassicists). Maybe it’s a disciplinary thing. We should e-mail David Roman and get his take. If I read you correctly, it is indeed plausible that Chigurh is in the hotel room, which is the point I think I’m trying to make above. Your final line is far more engaging, and that statement seems to elide the entire debate. Nevertheless, I think No Country‘s world is interested not in dreams but in dreams remembered, mythic notions of the west which are openly interrogated, archetypes which seem to have crumbled into little more than hollow notions which are sadly contemplated . . . and all of that is bound up in Ed Tom. He doesn’t have to imagine the monster. He already knows the monster is loose and hiding in every corner. The world, for him, just doesn’t make sense anymore and so he retreats. As for Raising Arizona, that film sets up a universe which more resembles a Looney Tune short in which anything and everything is bound to pop up out of nowhere. That film’s universe never once deviates from the rules established in the first five minutes. In the end, while I completely buy into the theory of intertextuality, I do not believe every Ridley Scott text must also include all other Ridley Scott texts, nor do I believe that every Hitchcock text must include all other Hitchcock texts. But I am pleased that you do. For me such an approach to textual analysis becomes a black hole, because then everything is intertextually connected to everything else . . . times 356. It’s like a neverending circular game of six degrees of Harrison Ford as conducted by Sartre in a windowless room in Babylon without air conditioning.

  15. I just saw this last night and enjoyed it very much. I was glad to find that Nora Ephron and others were confused about some essential parts of the film. I’ll leave Aristotle out of it. I will say that I think the Coens are concerned with confounding some generic expectations but I don’t think they challenge continuity editing on a formal level, do they? What they do is playfully withhold those moments of punctuating violence we expect from this kind of film. But the issue of AC hiding in the motel room is a different issue–I would have to see the scene again to talk about it more accurately–but my first impression was that AC was hiding in the room, given that the editing suggested as much. Only to find out that the room is empty and the money gone, presumably taken by AC? This is the only moment of this kind of obscurity in the movie so I tend to think of it as something of a cheat–why the confusion? But, again, I need to see it again.

    I did not care for the scene with Ellis–do we really need this kind of underlining? It was the only scene that interrupted the mechanism of suspense, that goes hand in hand with the sense of sad waste that the film emphasizes. In that way it reminded me of Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett… –murders for the sake of “form” or a vague sense of principle, attributed to forces outside of people’s control.

    To say that the “right people” die is to overlook all those random victims along the roadway–say, the chicken farmer. The film sometimes seems to have a sly affinity for AC, because he at least takes control of death, taking it out of the hands of pointless fate–and, in the tradition of many films in this genre, he has a set of principles, however twisted. It’s interesting that the hero Lewellyn becomes something different when it becomes clear that he is willing to put his wife in danger for the sake of continuing his own doomed adventure. Does his doom start with the failure to provide the dying man with water, or with his mistaken decision to return to the massacre site with a carton of water?

    But, lest we get too caught up in the code of the implacable assassin, we have the ethical center of the sheriff, just as we did in Fargo . I am a bit apalled at the woman who laughed her head off about the story of the killer couple. I don’t recall that scene being played for laughs. I think the reaction may stem from the misperception that the Coens are somehow wacky postmodern nihilists, depicting mayhem for its own sake and filmic juiciness. Both this film and Fargo have a strong thread of sadness over what people do to each other. The deputy laughs not at the story itself but at the sheriff’s semi-comic remark that it took a naked man in a dog collar to get people’s attention. There seems to me a profound difference between this kind of black comic laugh (whose necessity at times the sheriff acknowledges) and the cruel laugh that assumes you have nothing in common with the naked guy in the dog collar (isn’t it wacky and wild!). though both perhaps partake of cruelty, of different kinds?

    I found it a bit puzzling that, post-Starkweather,post-Manson, post-Gacy, etc., that the sheriff finds something disturbingly new and unfathomable coming along–hasn’t it already arrived? Or, as Mike suggests, was it ever gone? The sheriff is the ethical center but is his viewpoint viable—is it merely nostalgic, or does it have some truth to it? The film nicely posits the unresolvable nature of the question, do the times age you or does your aging change the times?

  16. Let me work from the bottom up.

    The film takes place in the midst of Starkweather, Manson, Gacy, et al. Am I right here? The film is set in the early 1970s.

    If I recall, Ed’s remark is “I guess digging graves wasn’t enough.” The deputy laughs, and Ed glances at him. I’m not sure the glance is one of disapproval. To me, the glance is to be read this way: “you laugh at that?…well, I guess I understand why.” I say this, because Ed’s next remark is, not an apology for laughter, but an acknowledgment of it, of the absurd. The image of a naked old man, bound to a dog collar, is funny. That the image itself is bound to suffering and death is the point. This is the laughter of modernity–the mirthless laugh. Tyrus Miller talks about it in relation to Beckett: “the mirthless laugh…is the laugh of laugh, the risus purus, the laugh laughing at the laugh, the beholding, the saluting of the highest joke, in a word, the laugh that laughs—silence please—at that which is unhappy.” Well, whatever. You get the idea.

    I’ve totally lost the thread of the debate about “right people.” My thought is that the logic that governs the world of the film is that it spares no one. The innocent die, as they must. The hero dies, as he must. AC doesn’t die, but he nearly does, or perhaps will soon. “Look at that bone!” The body wins, always.

    Ill have to watch the scene with Ellis again in order to really understand what Michael is saying. Just how much time has passed between this scene and the one previous? Not screen time but story time?

    I think the majority of audiences are convinced AC was in the room. I like the idea that AC is a ghost, that Ed is just projecting his fears, etc. But it’s just as easy to say AC is, in fact, in the room. Not much on the screen to suggest otherwise. Besides, just because the scene ends without us seeing the two of them together doesn’t mean the film is saying “see? he wasn’t there after all, so let’s move on” (that’s the film talking, Jeff, not me). Considering my previous point about the time passing between this scene and the one with Ellis, we don’t know what, exactly, happened to Ed in the motel room (or in subsequent days, months). I mentioned Beckett earlier, but I’ll mention another modernist playwright just piss you fuckers off: Pinter. You could debate The Dumb Waiter all you want, try to piece everything together, cause-and-effect-wise. But why? It’s all there anyway. It means the same tangled or untangled. Pinter said “The most we know for sure is that the things which have happened have happened in a certain order: any connections we think we see, we choose to make, are pure guesswork.”

    Anyway, I think everybody on this particular thread is right. Except Arnab, who hasn’t even written anything yet.

  17. Saw this with my sister in Chicago. My wife hasn’t seen it, so I’m going back for a second viewing tonight. I’m really looking forward to watching that scene in the motel room again!

  18. I agree with John, except for one niggling thing: the film takes place in the early ’80s.

    I think Michael’s arguments about the cruelty of a character’s and an audience laugh are in keeping with the film’s complicated circling around cruelty and ethics. Is AC cruel, or (like that scorpion in the fable, stinging the frog) simply following his nature? I love the point about Llewellyn and the water–does he fuck up by denying the guy his relief, or by trying to give it to him? That’s the movie in a nutshell, and (another high-five to John) that’s a very Pinteresque kind of question–does the answer even matter? He’s fucked either way.

  19. yes, please let us know what’s going on in that motel!

    by the way, the scene with the gas station owner indicates the film takes place in 1980 (the quarter is dated 1958…it’s been waiting 22 years, AC says, etc.). 1980, as I mentioned, strikes me as late for apocalyptic speculation and wonder at the evil people do.

  20. thoughts on HBO: Wikipedia notes that it was established as early as 1972. This got my memory working. Seems to me it was available as a scrambled channel during the late 1970s. Seems to me they did the free weekend thing during the late 1970s–I remember eagerly and secretly watching late at night the R-rated The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea in order to catch a brief glimpse of a naked Sarah Miles. My memory was hazy but I was probably 16–placing it around 1979-1980. Since the establishment of HBO preceded the whole premium cable phase I have no difficulty believing that a Texas motel would offer it. I seem to vaguely remember that it was a kind of status symbol–a sign of being on the TV cutting edge–to have HBO at that point.

  21. Fine, but a motel in west Texas offering free HBO? Kinda goes against the ethos of the film. And what about the reference to an ATM? Are we supposed to believe west Texas was that advanced?

    Oh, what the fuck do I care.

  22. Saw this for the second time tonight. Alicia didn’t like I as much as I did, but I’m still convinced it’s quite good.

    How to read that scene? I’m now convinced it is impossible to determine that Chigurh is in that room. There are reflections in that brass lock, but it’s very hard to tell what, exactly, they reveal. And it is very hard to determine how to assign POV. The Cohens are misleading us–that is, if we put our faith in Classical Hollywood editing. If we do, then all cuts suggest Chigurh is in the room. An exterior shot of the motel, with shot-counter-shot, indicates Ed Tom is approaching rooms 114/112. Another shot-counter-shot indicates he sees a reflection in the brass lock. And what follows appears to be a cross-cut to the interior of the room, with Chigurh in the shadow, waiting behind the door. Another cross-cut to the exterior of the room, and we have Ed Tom looking again at the reflection. Another cross cut to the interior, and we see Chigurh again. He is looking at the gaping hole in the door, with yellow light from the parking lot poking through. There’s a shot of a reflection in the brass lock, this time in the dark, so we must assume this is Chirgurh’s POV. Then an exterior shot of Ed Tom, whose body language suggests (to me) that he knows what waiting for him inside.

    So it seems to us it is Chigurh, until Ed Tom opens the door and a low-angle interior shot shows us nothing is behind the door.

    But I now wonder what hotel room Ed Tom is now in. Is this another cross cut? Or are we in a different interior? He may have started at room 114 (or 112) but maybe the door he kicks open is 14 (or 12). I suspect this could be a different room, since Ed Tom notices the grill over teh vent has been removed. This would be consistent with how the money moves (from the front room to the back, through the ductwork). Chigurh is in the front room, where there are parking lights.

    But the vent is a different shape (it’s round, and there’s no way the suitcase would fit). Did Chigurh, then, not find the money? Is he in the other room looking for it? What room?

    Well, I’ll stop here because by now you’ve probably decided that mine a pointless pursuit. I thought I would be able to get it sorted out, but I didn’t get it sorted out. I think reynolds may have the right idea, which is that we can’t know for sure where Chigurh is, though I think reynolds is convinced he’s not in the room. I see no reason to rule it out. Chigurh is not a ghost (again: “look at that fucking bone!”). But he’s good, very good. So maybe he was in the room, but steals away. Somehow. Chigurh’s final words in the film are “tell them I was already gone.” Okay, I said I’ll stop.

    And about the HBO/ATM thingy. I take everything back. Chigurh’s response to Carson’s plea that $14,000 is waiting for him in an ATM is to chuckle and repeat, with disdain, the letters “ATM”–as if to imply “this is how a fucking day trader operates.” I think that’s enough to convince us that, yes, new things are indeed approaching (cable TV, instant cash). But although these approaching things trouble old men like Ed Tom (because with new things come other new things), they do not bother Chigurh.

  23. My second take is the same as my first. The deputy, Wendell, laughs at Ed Tom’s remark, “But that’s what it took, you’ll notice. Get someone’s attention. I guess digging graves didn’t bring any.” Wendell recognizes immediately that his laughter is inappropriate, and I think he’s a little startled by it, too. But he doesn’t wait for Ed Tom to chastise him. In fact, Ed Tom says, “well…that’s all right. I laugh too sometimes. There ain’t a whole lot else you can do.”

    I still take this to be an acknowledgment of the absurd and the acceptance of laughter as, if not essential, then at least inevitable. It’s a comic moment only in the broadest sense: the refusal either to evade suffering or to be done in by false solemnity. This moment may even provide a lesson for Ed Tom–to hear laughter crash his little coffee-shop jeremiad (“my lord, Wendell, it’s just all-out war. There’s no other word for it” and “You can’t make up such a story. I dare you to even try.”). Wendell’s involuntary laughter quiets Ed Tom, who drops his sanctimonious ranting.

    small noteI wouldn’t be surprised if the Cohens expect audiences to laugh during this scene–there’ve been so many great one-liners in the film thus far (most of them delivered by Ed Tom to Wendell).

    Anyway, a little earlier in the film, Ed Tom chases down someone the sheriff department hired to take the bodies from the crime scene. The tarp in the truck bed is flapping, exposing the body bags. “That’s a damn outrage” he tells the driver, who apologizes for not securing one of the tiedowns.
    Ed Tom knows how important it is to keep death hidden from view–to protect both us and the dead. So maybe later in the film, at the coffee shop, Ed Tom decides he shouldn’t be surprised, or angry, if no one gives attention to death and suffering. He himself is responsible for the cover-up.

  24. i would just like to clarify that i was not in any motel room.

    chigurh? i was hoping it was sigur–i like the idea of icelandic killers.

  25. let me add my take on the controversial motel scene: i am inclined to think that it is the sheriff’s imagination, and that in fact the film subtly positions us to see it that way. first of all, i think the film is quite clear that he’s not in the room the sheriff enters–the door slams all the way against the wall, and he looks back at the door. the question then is whether he’s in the next room. i think not, because of two reasons:

    1) if that’s the twist there’s no reason for the film to not establish it with one more cut.

    2) more importantly, the chigurh we see inside before the sheriff enters the room he does, does not have his gun. the sheriff knows nothing about what kind of gun he carries, but at that point he has figured out the compressor thingy. this i believe is a signal that we’re seeing the chigurh the sheriff knows (as a ghost). if chigurh were there (or in the next room) there’s absolutely no reason for him to not carry his gun.

    i liked the film a lot. mike had said to me in person that he’d thought it was a fine genre exercise, nothing more. i don’t think it is a genre workout at all. the cinematography, the pitiless arc of the narrative seems to me cut against genre expectations consistently; not to mention the oblique final act. i find mike’s comments here more interesting (as indeed i enjoy the online mike consistently more than the material mike): the film seems to me to move self-consciously away from “realism” towards allegory, highlighting its often extremely artificial narrative engine all the way. the plot is actually quite implausible, even without the motel scene–but we’re tugged along by the power of genre, which is then pulled out from under our feet.

    it is also a very interesting companion piece to fargo. both feature decent powers of good, slowly, good-humoredly tracking down great evil–not to mention similar mcguffins (the money) and plot points (the disappearance of the money at the end, for one). in the one, decency wins in the end; in the other, decency is completely undone. i’m not suggesting that this later vision (adapted from another text) trumps the earlier one, but i think it gets to michael’s question about why the sheriff is so shocked by the things he’s so shocked by. i don’t think it is a discrepancy as much as it is a critique of the sheriff, and his somewhat romantic point of view. in another sense, the sheriff is like the audience: trained to follow a plot that makes perfect sense and delivers a particular kind of payoff. chigurh drops him into another narrative, and that’s what undoes him. to return to fargo, we end there with marge and her husband cosy in bed, discussing stamps, but the image of peter stormare glowering in fran mcdormand’s car at the end never quite fades. this film ends with a similar domestic scene–but if the earlier film suggests that the banality of domesticity can finally overcome the banality of evil, this one takes the opposite view: chigurh has leaked into the sheriff’s world and he can no longer be at ease.

  26. I watched this scene (hotel room) about four times last night on DVD. First, watching NCFOM on DVD by myself on a large screen, I was taken by how somber, sober, and nearly stoic this film is. Sure there are some comic moments but I don’t think I was compelled to laugh once (a few chuckles mostly generated by the wryly youthful sheriff’s deputy). This film strikes me as completely concerned with mimesis but that’s another conversation. So, this hotel room sequence starts out with a series of shot/reverse shot sequences. The first moves between Ed Tom’s pov in his car and the approaching doors of the hotel room. Then we move to a close up of Ed Tom’s face, after he has stopped the car, alternating with the approaching door. As Ed Tom begins to walk toward the door, the lights of his car cast an oversized shadow of the sheriff onto the hotel room door and wall. Then there are a series of shots alternating between Ed Tom at the door and the blown out brass door lock hole. I’ve looked and looked and looked but there is no discernable reflection in the brass casing. Three shots move us from Ed Tom to the door lock to Anton Chigurh hiding behind the door, connecting the two men (spatially and temporally). From here on we do not return to the lock but the shots solely alternate between Ed Tom and Chigurh hiding in the shadows behind the door. Ed Tom pushes the door open and it does not hit the wall or door stopper as Arnab suggested but stops with a softer, thud-like sound (a human body?). Then we get alternating shots between Ed Tom and the darkened hotel room. The use of silence is very intense and suspenseful because we have been led to believe Chigurh is still behind that door (and nothing else in this film has given us permission to think otherwise). Shadows cast upon the hotel room walls provide us with a double image (larger than life) of Ed Tom, and I was reminded of an Andy Warhol painting of two Elvis Presley’s in cowboy attire (Warhol appropriated the image from a promotional still for Presley’s 1960 western Flaming Star). I don’t know what to make of this, but Warhol was certainly deconstructing–playfully–wild west visual tropes (shot through the beautiful surfaces of an American celebrity). Anyway, Ed Tom steps into the room over a large blood stain on the floor and, after only a few seconds, walks into the hotel room bathroom (he never once glances toward what could be lurking behind that door). He turns on the bathroom light, stares at the bathroom window lock, and remains there for nearly seven seconds (the silence is subtly broken by white noise as we enter the bathroom). As he returns to the room there is a sense that the tension has lifted (Ed Tom breathes out a sigh which can only be read as one of relief coupled with exhaustion). Ed Tom sits on the bed–the hotel room door is open a bit more than it was before–and he then notices the heater vent has been removed from the wall by a dime (coins again) only the heating duct is smaller than what we saw in the Del Rio hotel room earlier in the film. There is no way anyone could have put a large case of money in that duct. The implication is that the Mexicans got the money after killing Moss and exiting the parking lot like gangbusters before Ed Tom’s initial entrance into this parking lot oh so many hours ago. I watched with great attention but there is nothing in this film to suggest anything other than what we see, and the fact that Ed Tom spends more than enough time in the bathroom for Chigurh to exit the room without being seen makes the most sense to me. Again, Chigurh doesn’t know Ed Tom from Adam; there’s no reason for him to want or need to kill this man. On second viewing, I was surprised how straight-forward the film is narratively and aesthetically. That being said, it is an amazing film–there is not one wasted moment in its 135-minute running time. And I have to admit, Deakins was robbed. The film is gorgeous to look at without ever really being gorgeous.

  27. Hey, while you’re obsessing, go rent Pulp Fiction and tell me what’s in that briefcase.

    Apparently in the book it’s far more certain. Chigurh is in the parking lot, having just left that room, watching to see whether he should kill the cop. The purposeful confusion of what could have been a fairly clean adaptation of that scene as written… I think that deserves some attention.

    I think I prefer it dreamy, ambiguous, seemingly concerned with the mechanics of dimes, screws, reflections, and the cold hard business of killing people, but finally much more interested in dreams, philosophy, aesthetics, etc. Death. Not the world but the worldview. Or, more terrifying, the end of our world, the insignificance of our worldviews. See also here, where they discuss Chigurh’s disembodied ‘presence’ in the book (at about 8:00 on) and the character as “departed from realism” (at 31:00).

    The movie, most prominently in its last third, leaps away from the chase to the problems of making sense. They want you to see what “makes the most sense,” but I also think they want everyone open to such. The point isn’t Chigurh’s presence; the point is the presence of death. Which is oxymoronic: death is absence.

  28. Interesting how Kenny leaves out the amount of time Ed Tom spends in the bathroom. Still, just because the final quarter of the film veers from a stunning exercise in genre to something much more explicitly and existentially mournful (we mourn because we want to make sense out of that which is nearly impossible to grasp, right) doesn’t mean Chigurh isn’t in the room (which Kenny seems to take for granted). Also interesting that in comment #13 I spoke of Chigurh’s ghost-like qualities and Reynolds upbraided me for not understanding him as well as I should (to be honest I understand Reynolds about 47% of the time). Still, I completely disagree that the film formally departs from realism or mimesis or whatever you want to name it. I really tried to see it; I searched for the textual evidence . . . anything I could hang my hat on to suggest the film transmogrifies into something unusually other, but I couldn’t find it. I will agree what is most interesting about the film is not the story but the mysteries that lurk behind the story. I also return to Michael’s comment above where he questions what exactly Ed Tom is afraid of in a “post-Starkweather, post-Manson, post-Gacy” universe. I might add the spectre of Vietnam which seems to play a signficant role in this film. Woody Harrelson’s character is a former special-ops general now working for some nefarious organization (or maybe he works for the Regan administration). Moss did a couple of tours as well. It’s 1980 and Ed Tom is just beginning to realize the world is fucked up. What history classes did he sleep through in high school?

  29. Slogging through Charlie Rose. Just moments before Joel Coen remarks that Chigurh “departs from a certain sense of realism” he acknowledges you “recognize him at some level as being human.” And Josh Brolin talks about the “humanity” of the character not to mention Bardem’s “charisma.”

  30. I think the film first departs from realism when an obsessive hitman coolly carries around a fucking cattle-gun to kill his victims.

    47%? I may not have the math, but I have the momentum.

  31. Testy? You will always have the momentum, and you will always win your arguments through sheer force of will compounded by aforementioned momentum. If you weren’t such a thoroughly “fucking” nice guy there would be other words for your type (indeed, I think you depart from realism when you coolly carry around a list of proposed curricular outcome goals). Basically, if I read you correctly, every time a narrative deviates from some sort of assumed “norm,” realism is thwarted, verisimilitude is cattle-prodded, and mimesis is laid to rest. If only Chigurh carried a glock, the film would be realistic to the core, yes? God, I’m just writing nonsense because I have nothing better to do. My eight-year-old daughter is in love with a nine-year-old boy named Jake who plays hockey and looks like a bruiser. According to my daughter he farts a lot, which I take as a supreme compliment. She’s eight and fears no one will ever love her!!! This is what I get for letting her watch Dan in Real Life last night. Yikes! Talk about a film that gives a shit about verisimilitude! Any film focusing on a struggling widower/newspaper columnist who lives in a house that would easily fetch two or three million dollars is obviously interested in aesthetic objectives far removed from any notion of the real world. I don’t even believe in realism anymore.

  32. What’s my type, big boy?

    I’m more than willing to give realism some love, but a film writ in the heightened tropes of pulp noir seems an unlikely place to seek such affection, like going to a hooker for a cuddle.

    Jeff, if you want a cuddle, you just have to ask. You had me at HBO.

  33. what a devastatingly beautiful film. i love michael’s points, see 18 above, especially the much-to-the point final question: “do the times age you or does your aging change the times?”

    i’m late to this party. i’ll leave it at that. but wow, a really great film. i have no words to say how much more than there will be blood i like it. but who cares about comparing? it’s silly. i’m doing it only because these were the two big movies at the oscars, and, having seen blood, i was apprehensive about exposing myself to another orgy of violence. well, the violence here is very different from that of blood, and i like it a lot better. javier bardem and tommy lee jones, gosh. makes me wish jones had not made in the valley of elah and bardem had had nothing to do with the sea inside.

  34. thanks to netflix’s meltdown i had to look to charter’s ondemand services for a movie fix, and found no country for old men on some channel or the other. i rewatched the motel scene with interest and am back to change my earlier position on the crucial matter of whether chigurh is in the room. let’s face it, none of us will get closure and be able to move on with our lives till this is resolved definitively. luckily, here i am: he’s in the room.

    jeff is right: the door does not slam against the wall, and there’s more than enough time for chigurh to slip out unnoticed. as for why he doesn’t kill ed tom, i believe the film actually sets this up in an earlier scene. chigurh has just blown the head accountant away. the other accountant asks him if he’s going to kill him as well. chigurh asks him, “i don’t know, did you see me?”

    well, okay, so maybe he’s not definitively in the room. but i think the film allows us that reading within its own structure, and mike should stop bullying us with his postmodern mumbo-jumbo.

Leave a Reply